Computer games and play culture
- an outline of an interpretative framework
Are computer games good for children? The question has been asked
since the first games appeared in the so-called video arcades
and amusement halls at the end of the 1970s. The fear that computer
games could have an unfortunate influence on children’s
development or actually make them dependent has been widespread,
and today many grown-ups still have great reservations about the
phenomenon. Over the past twenty years, though, the games have
become increasingly popular among children and the young, and
now at the end of the 1990s the interactive media have become
a threat to traditional toys. According to the Danish toy industry,
sales of traditional toys are stagnating, while the opposite is
happening for interactive phenomena like computer games. Christmas
1998, for example was dominated by interactive toys. More than
a quarter of toys for children today are digital (Rørth
1999). It is still mainly the boys who play, but among the younger
girls interest is growing.
The computer games can no longer, as before, be regarded as a
subcultural phenomenon reserved for the few who are interested
in computers. On the whole, interactive digital phenomenon seem
to have a strong appeal for the growing generations, who have
been surrounded from birth by these “new” media, and
have adopted them without the reservations typical of older generations.
This difference in the generations’ relationships with technology
can become very important in the future, thinks the bestselling
American author Don Tapscott. It could lead to a new generation
struggle. The modern societies, according to Tapscott, are facing
great social transformations for which the digital media can take
much of the credit, and which will happen over the next decade.
The present generations of children, whom Tapscott calls “N-geners”
(the Net Generation), will implement these changes with or without
the participation of older generations. If this can lead to a
wide generation gap, it is because the influence of information
and communication technology will be so radical: “Because
it is distributed, interactive, malleable, and lacking central
control, it is a vehicle for a revolutionary change in every discipline,
attitude, and social structure. Never has there been a time of
greater promise or peril. The challenge of achieving that promise,
and in so doing save our fragile planet, will rest with the Net
Generation. Our responsibilities are to them – to give them
the tools and opportunity to fulfill their destinies” (Tapscott
The attitude to the importance of technology that Tapscott expresses
here is typical of the history of the computer; the revolutionary
power of technology has often been emphasized, for better or for
worse. Over the past twenty years we have had many heated debates
on the new digital phenomena on the market, which have split the
debaters into two camps. On the one side a number of adherents
of technology have asserted its positive potential for the development
of society, including children’s learning. On the other
side a number of opponents have feared the negative influence
on children’s social development. Common to both camps,
however, has been the belief that technology is very important
in the development of children and the young.
In reality the generational difference lies perhaps in the difference
between this belief in the importance of technology, of which
Tapscott is a current representative, and the fact that for the
growing generations we are talking about everyday phenomena. In
general it has been assumed that technology is a primary cause
of change to which social structures and cultural forms must adapt.
When it comes to children and the young, the fear of technology’s
potential to shape thinking and behaviour has been prevalent,
especially in public debate. A relatively new and typical example
of this is a Danish debate that arose over the so-called “computer
cafés”. This phenomenon, which is found all over
the world today, began as “Internet cafés”,
where against paying an hourly rate one could get access to a
computer with an Internet link. The first cafés appeared
in Denmark in 1994-95, and since then they have spread to many
large and small towns, at the same time changing their names from
“Internet café” to “computer café”.
Today they are often simply called what they are: “game
cafés”, where you can pay to play the latest computer
In 1997 a media debate arose about the cafés, which a
group of social workers and parents thought could lead to crime,
because children would have to steal to get the money to play.
The parents took the firm view that computer games were a pathological
need along the lines of “ludomania” – habitual
gambling. This fear of the ability of the computer games to “cast
a spell” on the players and make them dependent on the playing
experience has dogged the computer and the games from the start,
and it is a theme that has been dealt with in a number of studies
with a psychological point of departure.
Most of the educational and developmental psychology research
in the area has regarded computer technology as a potential danger
to children’s and young people’s social relations
and to the development of imagination and creativity. This view
has also appeared at regular intervals in the 1990s. For example,
the associate professor of psychology at the Royal Danish School
of Educational Studies Steen Larsen can be quoted for the following
statement in 1997 in relation to the above-mentioned media debate
about computer cafés: “I don’t think it is
dangerous to sit in the café and play an hour or two a
day, for children are strong. But that is where we have to draw
the line. When you play, there is a kind of narrowing of the brain
functions that you certainly can’t keep up in the long run.
For although a lot is happening on the surface, the games are
in reality built up as an eternal repetition of the same routine
with small variations. A further problem is that the children
do not develop other functions during all the time they are playing.
You could say that the development vitamins are eaten up.”
One could surely hardly direct stronger criticism at children
playing computer games; and if Steen Larsen is right, the games
must be considered a potential hazard to the health of the growing
generations and their future fitness for adulthood. All the more
so as the games are today played by the majority of children.
In view of that development it is of course essential to find
out what the computer games mean for the development of children
and the young.
Computer games and computer technology
In most of the research to date, as we have seen, it is assumed
that one can regard the computer games as primarily technological
phenomena, whose significance and influence can be inferred from
the underlying digital technology. The problem with such an assumption
is however that almost all electronic phenomena today are based
on digital technology, including, for example, music CDs and the
telephone. The comparison may not on the face of it seem reasonable.
Both the telephone and music were fully developed cultural phenomena
before digital technology was invented, and in contrast one can
claim that the computer games have closely followed the development
of computer technology. The first types of computer game had an
extremely simple structure and consisted of eternal repetitions
of the same or almost the same actions. The computer games of
today have developed into more complex and varied genres and forms,
but in principle they are still based on the same technology.
Is this development history necessarily an argument for claiming
that computer games are primarily a technological phenomenon?
As an experiment one can reverse the argument and ask if there
need be a causal relationship between technology and the games’
structure, simply because the games developed with digital technology.
Technology makes phenomena like computer games possible, just
as it makes music CDs, the telephone and the Internet possible.
But does that mean with certainty that there are inherent qualities
in computer technology that determine the content and function
of the specific products?
If this question can reasonably be asked – and I think
it can – it means that one cannot arrive directly at an
understanding of children’s fascination with the computer
and computer games by beginning with an analysis of computer technology,
and then deduce their importance and influence. On the contrary
one must isolate the computer and the games from the firm technological
grip in which assumptions about them have been held for the past
twenty years. The first question that has to be asked is therefore
not what the computer and the games do to children, but the opposite:
what do the children do with the computer and the games? In my
view one must try to go from an analysis of children’s use
in concrete situations to an understanding of the computer and
the computer games as a special medium. We cannot simply assume
that the games function and work in the same way as TV, literary
texts or films, among other reasons because the interaction between
the games and the users are not like those we know from other
media. Computer games are a new phenomenon, about which we do
not know very much, and to which we can therefore assign meanings
they do not have.
If it is important to try to understand the computer game as
a special medium, this is because, as mentioned above, it is playing
a greater and greater role in children’s lives. At the same
time it is just one of many examples of new media and new forms
of interactive toys in the wake of the development of information
technology, of which we can expect more and more in the future.
We can no longer simply choose to dismiss these phenomena out
of hand. They are too important a part of children’s and
young people’s life, so it is essential that we are able
to distinguish between what is quality and what is not. If we
are to do this, we must of course know what computer games are.
Electronic media and children’s play culture
An understanding of computer games as a phenomenon of children’s
culture is not only relevant to the games themselves. Besides
being a medium with its own features, the computer game is also
one of several examples of the growing importance that the electronic
phenomena have taken on over the last few decades in the everyday
life of children. This development has in several ways turned
the focus on children’s play and play culture, among other
ways in the form of a concern that the traditional play culture
is threatened because the media seem to function as a substitute
for social relations among the children. An example of this fear
is the Canadian children’s culture researcher Stephen Kline,
who asserts in a major work on the marketing of toys that these
developments make us question whether we can still regard children’s
culture as their own. According to Kline it appears that the toy
manufacturers have increasingly, through intensive and aggressive
marketing in the media, gained control of the play universe and
patterns of children, well helped by social development which
has meant that children’s free space and time have been
greatly restricted. Play culture today differs radically from
the “street culture”, typified by social and collective
games, that we have known before, thinks Kline, and he sees a
clear tendency for children’s play today to be stereotyped
and strongly marked by “scripts” from the TV series
(Kline 1993:333). Kline can refer to many studies which show that
the producers have understood not only how to make toys but also
to deliver a narrative universe with pre-programmed fantasies
which children to a great extent imitate. Kline says: “Instead
of elaborate scenes of improvisational toy theatre, we see in
children’s play only the repeated spectacles of combat and
fashion, narrated with the same TV slogans interspersed with TV’s
theme music and sound effects” (339). Kline quotes and approves
of Roland Barthes’ well known criticism of commercial toys
and the consumerism that Barthes thought they brought with them:
Faced with this world of faithful and complicated toys the
child can only identify himself as owner as user, never as creator;
he does not invent the world, he uses it; they are prepared
for him, actions without adventure, without wonder, without
joy ... they are supplied to him ready-made; he has only to
help himself, he is never allowed to discover anything from
start to finish (Barthes 1959, quoted here from Kline 1993).
This is a criticism that on the face of it seems to apply to
the computer game, which more than anything has been considered
to be pre-programmed fantasies, precisely with a point of departure
in their association with computer technology (e.g. Turkle 1987).
The importance of the electronic media for children’s imagination
and play is today a central issue with far-reaching implications.
If Stephen Kline is right in his assumptions, there is every reason
to fear for children’s social development, all the more
so as children’s play with media products in the form of
both computer games and TV series with associated merchandise
today makes up a large part of their play culture. It is a widespread
assumption that computer games are an individual and asocial activity,
and for that reason influence children’s culture in the
direction of increased individualization and isolation. Thus Provenzo,
in one of the few existing books about children and computer games,
presents a specific observation of how 8-12-year-old boys play
Nintendo games while waiting to go in and see a movie:
“They stand in quiet concentration, watching whoever
is “on the machine”. There is no roughhousing or
joking around while they play the games. One can sense the intensity
of the children playing and of those in the group watching,
as joysticks are pushed and pulled and buttons pressed and slammed.
The games [...] are taken very seriously” (Provenzo 1990:1).
In a later article Provenzo asserts: “There are no team
players [in the world of video games]; each man or woman is
out for himself or herself...” (Provenzo, 1992:31).
An increasing amount of the research in the area of children,
the young and computer games sees something different from Provenzo,
and instead reports on the social character of the computer games.
They do so to such an extent that one can reasonably regard it
as a fact. Children and the young play very often and preferably
together. Whether computer games initiate asocial or social activities
is important to understanding them. This is partly related to
the way we today evaluate the value of social and asocial activities
among children, and the issue of whether the games can damage
children’s play patterns and play culture. But it is also
important to the understanding of what the computer games are,
and to our ability to distinguish how they differ from other cultural
products. I will attempt to demonstrate this in the following.
Computer games and narrativity
If, to begin with, one regards computer games as a result of
a cultural development process where computer technology is not
a determining factor, but instead a field of potential, whose
concrete manifestations cannot be deduced from an inherent “nature”,
then the need arises for another type of interpretative framework
in which the games can be understood. No such framework, however,
is on offer today. In recent research computer games have increasingly
attracted attention as independent cultural products. But the
research is still at an early stage with few and varied suggestions
for interpretative frameworks and models. Attempts have been made
to deal with games in terms of the interpretative models used
in readings of more traditional media like literature and films.
As an example the Danish media researcher Jens F. Jensen has analysed
computer games as narratives and has used interpretative models
developed by Propp and Greimas for reading folk tales. A number
of recent articles argue that computer games and similar interactive
phenomena do not have the character of narratives, and that they
cannot be accommodated by the interpretative models used for more
traditional media. Computer games are special texts which only
apparently resemble the texts we find in other more traditional
media. Thus one does not “read” a computer game, one
plays it. In a critique of the research on computer games the
American media and literature researcher Henry Jenkins states
that it is based on an incorrect presupposition that traditional
narrative theories from textual and media disciplines can be used
as explanatory models:
...current accounts lack any serious discussion of the particularity
of Nintendo as a means of organizing cultural experience; the
writers fail to address what it meant to be playing the games
rather than watching or reading them. [...] Most of the criteria
by which we might judge a classically constructed narrative
fall by the wayside when we look at these games as storytelling
systems. [...] characters play a minimal role, displaying traits
that are largely capacities for action. [...] the character
is little more than a cursor that mediates the player’s
relationship to the story world. [...] plot is transformed into
a generic atmosphere [...] that the player can explore (Fuller
& Jenkins 1995:60-61).
Computer games question the very categories of author, reader
and text (Friedman 1994). This is a view one can also find in
a recent Danish text collection on multimedia theory, where one
reads for example: “An interactive system denotes [...]
not a story but rather a narrative space which the player uses
to create a linear text”. The user’s role in this
space, which is also called “narrative protoplasm”,
is compared to the storyteller’s in contrast to the tale’s
repertoire of roles and themes, and with the film editor’s
role with the raw film (Bøgh Andersen 1997).
Today there is a wide consensus that with the new digital media
we are facing phenomena that question our views of “text”
and “reader” and not least the relationship between
them. The research on computer-mediated communication, interactivity
and multimedia has in fact in recent years seen almost explosive
developments, especially in connection with the development of
the Internet. However, this does not apply to the research on
computer games, where we still today find few scattered ideas
on how the user’s interaction with computer games can be
understood. Understandably enough, perhaps. While it is still
fruitful to apply familiar analytical tools to phenomena which,
all other things being equal, are still, at the core, about communicating
– about conveying a message through a medium which acts
as a channel – it is hardly fruitful with computer games,
which may be interactive, but cannot directly be called communicative
In other words there is a need for the development of a new interpretative
framework which can understand the computer games, but which sees
them neither as technological phenomena nor as channels for messages.
As Fuller and Jenkins state in the quotation above, research has
interpreted the games as they appear on the screen rather than
studying what it means to play the computer games. Computer games
become what they are in use, through reception. This means that
the game’s “text”, as it appears on the screen,
is only to be regarded as a kind of sheet music which only becomes
a “computer game” in its realization. Thus one cannot
read and interpret the games outside the interpretative framework
constituted by children’s own use (“the computer culture”),
if one wants to understand what the games are and mean for the
players. In principle this is no different from the case with
other media, where in recent decades research has dealt more and
more with the recipients’ decoding and use of the products.
Such a point of view corresponds to what one finds in many recent
interpretative theories, for example in the reception aesthetics
of W. Iser, of Eco, in theories of media reception and in media
anthropology. The question of the meaning of reception may take
a different and more radical form in connection with computer
games, where we may be able to speak of a new form of interaction
between medium and user.
The computer as theatre
In this context it may be important to realize that an interactive
medium like the computer game does not necessarily have the more
traditional media like TV and film as its most important precondition.
It could be misleading to regard computer games as the result
of a “marriage between TV and the computer” (Greenfield
1984). There are important differences in the “viewer role”
between the two media. While in front of the TV one is mainly
a spectator outside the events shown on the screen, as a player
of a computer game one is to a greater or lesser extent participant
and actor. In the following I will outline a proposal for a possible
interpretative framework for computer games, partly inspired by
play culture research and partly by Brenda Laurel, who in the
book “Computer as Theater” has tried to describe interactivity
by using the theatre as a metaphor and explanatory model (Laurel
1993). Her attempt is not least interesting because it breaks
with a view of the computer as a “screen medium” along
the lines of TV. At the same time it is equally important that
she does not only look at what technology is and is used for today,
but also at what it can become. The aim for Laurel is not only
theoretical, but also practical, since she wants to develop a
basis for creating better forms of interaction between the computer
and the user. In so doing she shows how “interactivity”
is not a uniform entity that functions in the same way in all
Laurel takes her point of departure in the first computer game
with graphics, Spacewar, developed by young computer nerds at
MIT as early as 1962, long before the games became of commercial
interest. But the game represents a contrast with the idea of
the “huge calculator”:
Why was Spacewar the “natural” thing to build with
this new technology? Why not a pie chart or an automated kaleidoscope
or a desktop? Its designers identified action as the key ingredient
and conceived Spacewar as a game that could provide a good balance
between thinking and doing for its players. They regarded the
computer as a machine naturally suited for representing things
that you could see, control, and play with. Its interesting
potential lay not in its ability to perform calculations but
in its capacity to represent action in which humans could participate
It is this type of representation, where the user is involved
as an actor in the program, which Laurel thinks creates the best
form of interaction between user and program. Many programs and
program creators think of interaction as a kind of “mediating
conversation” between two parties (Laurel 1993:3). Most
computer users experience the “conversation” with
the computer as clearly dominated by the machine, whose right
to set the agenda is hard to question without fatal consequences.
But according to Laurel it is not a necessity for computers to
behave like this, and it is far from the case in the computer
Laurel sees the theatre as a possible metaphor for what is played
out in the interaction with computers, in several respects. Common
to the theatre and the computer is the fact that in both cases
we have representation and actualization. The theatre, the film
and the computer all use technical resources to produce representation,
and these resources are invisible in the actualization. The technology
in the computer thus corresponds to the backstage of the theatre,
etc. The representation consists of actions which are carried
out by actors in a situation. Unlike other media, the user is
not a spectator, but a participant. The user so to speak wanders
on to the stage and participates in the actions. Laurel states
herself that this stretches the theatre metaphor more than it
can really bear, but she still maintains that it is a model that
is good as a basis for thinking about the computer interface.
She illustrates it in the model below, where the triangles represent
actors, who may be controlled by people or by the computer (in
principle these do not differ from each other in the representation),
while the other forms are other objects in the virtual universe.
Computer games as play
The theatre metaphor opens up a new perspective on the interaction
between user and computer game, first and fore-most because the
inter-face is not thought of as a boundary which creates an insurmountable
gap between the spectator and the action. This is not a story
that is told on the screen, but a story that is created with the
user as a co-creator and actor. Here the theatre is hardly the
proper explanatory model, and in reality Laurel’s model
more resembles play than theatre. With play as the metaphor and
explanatory model, I think we can get closer to an understanding
of what it means to play computer games (and to use other programs
– cf. Laurel). In play everyone is in principle a participant,
and there is no distance between actors and spectators, the stage
and the audience. There is only the stage.
On the face of it there may seem to be a great contrast between
play and a computer game, because we often regard play as the
same as the free play of imagination, while the computer game
follows closely established possibilities and scripts from which
one cannot deviate. Let me emphasize right away that I do not
want to suggest that the games should be regarded as play. They
resemble play and have a number of features in common with it.
They are not play – which however does not mean that what
the children do when they play them cannot be play.
We may associate the concept of “play” with imagination,
but we also talk about specific forms of play as “games”.
This is because most games have forms and rules that are important
to their existence in a social context. It is the background against
which they can be played collectively and can be passed on from
one generation of children to the next. Even role-playing games
like “playing house” have rules and forms that can
be described as a kind of formulae that make up the basis of the
game, and which the players can actualize and improvise over (Mouritsen
1996, Rönnberg 1989). These formulae can also with some justification
be described as “scripts”, and they can be learned
both from play culture and for example from the media. However,
these scripts are not the game, as critics of children’s
media-inspired games often assume. They are just that –
formulae, which only become play through actualization in a situation.
The formulae, which are necessary conditions of the games, are
intangible, and their existence is dependent on their use and
their being taught in use by one generation of children to the
next. The structure of these formulae is not random. They exist
in many different forms with different rules, different roles
and role positions which the players can adopt. A quite simple
type for example is the many games created over the roles pursuer-pursued.
It may be appropriate here to interpolate a remark about the
play concept I use. My concept of play is taken from Danish play
culture research and differs fundamentally from theories of play,
for example, in developmental psychology. In play culture research,
play is not viewed as a psychological, but as a cultural and aesthetic
phenomenon. Play is incidentally not associated specifically with
children here, and play culture is not be to be regarded specifically
as a children’s culture. Children, young people and adults
all play and have a play culture, sometimes even as a collective
project. This has for example been the case with the computer
in the 1980s, and is the case with football etc.
To make a long story very short, I think that it is possible
to develop an interpretative framework that can encompass the
computer games by assuming that computer games take their structure
from play. They seem to function like the formulae that can be
actualized and create games. The special thing about computer
games is that rules and roles are materialized in the game. They
function as the basis for an interaction where the players, by
adopting a role position, can enter into a dynamic interplay with
other role positions in the game.
Computer games can on the one hand be regarded as a highly restricted
form of play because of the strict structuring of the action potential
in the games, for there are still no games that seriously offer
the possibility of improvising as in play. On the other hand the
manifest forms of the rules and role positions have certain advantages
that may be an important explanation of their popularity: they
can be played without too many presuppositions in the form of
shared knowledge of play formulae. In fact the collective discovery
and exploration of the rules in the universe of the games may
be what it is all about for the players. Laurel has the following
to say about computer programs, and it also fits the computer
games very well:
Since all action is confined to the world of the representations,
all agents are situated in the same context, have access to
the same objects, and speak the same language. Participants
learn what language to speak by noticing what is understood;
they learn what objects are and what they do by playing around
with them (Laurel 1992:18).
In a time when the collective games are in decline, partly because
in our modern society we are increasingly dividing children up
into age groups, the computer games provide a new potential for
establishing social “play space”. They can function
without great demands on prior knowledge of the play formulae
and traditions of the players. In contrast to traditional toys,
the play formulae are to some extent embedded in the games. The
materialization may limit the possible actions that can be performed
in the game. On the other hand they enhance the possibilities
for social relations across differences in the cultures and experiences
of the players. One could – with some caution – perhaps
even claim that computer games help to preserve play culture and
the social and cultural networks among children (or boys at any
Computer games have features in common with other types of game,
such as board games and especially role-playing games, but differ
in other respects; partly because of the computer’s ability
to represent actions and to react to input, partly and very crucially
because the rules do not have to be learned and known in advance,
but can be acquired intuitively through observation and participation,
as happens in play. The players familiarize themselves with rules
and roles through exploration and specific experimentation in
line with the way children in general acquire knowledge of the
world around them.
The character of the computer games as tools in and for play
is particularly evident in the type of action game that has so
far gone under the name of “3D games” (for example
Doom and Quake, but increasingly also racing games and other types).
This type of game, which has today been given the name “first-person
games”, has become very widespread at the end of the 1990s.
In these games the player takes on a clearly defined role on the
virtual stage of the game. The player’s interface with the
game is of course still the screen, but here it plays the function
of the player’s “eyes”. The way the player sees
the universe of the game can best be compared to seeing the world
through a video camera. You can turn and move freely in all three
dimensions (thus the name “3D games”), although you
are of course still sitting on your chair in front of the screen.
You have to experience the game for a period before you can feel
part of the virtual space, but then it works admirably.
In games like Doom and Quake the opponents appear in the form
of monsters etc., but it gets better when several computers are
linked up in a network, so that other players act as opponents
in the game, as happens for example in the game cafés.
In such cases it becomes clear how the game has absorbed structures
and roles from traditional shooting games in physical reality.
As in the “real” games the players operate both in
the roles and outside them. An important part of the game consists
of the players’ comments (often teasing) to one another
through the computer, when they shoot one another. As in physical
shooting games, one can for example lie in ambush, and develop
special, sophisticated techniques to avoid being shot, etc.
There are many different types of computer game, and while the
play formulae are clear in action games, they are less so for
example in adventure games, where the main object is to explore
a game universe and solve a number of problems. Here it can at
first be difficult to see whether and how the players identify
with the figures they control, and harder to see how the games
are based on formulae or scripts from concrete games. On the other
hand it is evident from the children’s use of the games
that these are good for establishing social relations, both in
front of the screen where the children collectively explore the
games, and in the broader sense in the form of exchanges of tips
and tricks or of the games themselves (in the form of pirate copies
for example). Here the games are clearly tools that help to establish
social relations. Whether these relations can be called play is
a question of the definition of the boundaries between play and
The above attempt to outline a possible interpretative framework
for the computer games as tools for establishing play remains
an outline, and is far from fully developed. It should also be
stressed that these types of formulae or scripts, which open up
a “play space” in which the players can and must be
active, are not something the computer games have a monopoly of.
We have many games of this type in our play culture – for
example ludo, card games and role-playing games. Certain types
of TV can probably best be analysed as “interactive”,
since they create activity in the viewers in front of the screen
that is not just random viewer reaction, but is built into the
structure of the programmes (for example in sit-coms). This is
a side of TV programmes and series that needs exploration.
The computer games are in that sense not to be regarded as a
brand new aesthetic form, rather as a further development of existing
play culture phenomena, for which technology has created new potential.
In this connection it is worth remembering that the games are
still being developed and are unlikely to have found their final
Looking at computer games as tools for play might explain why
they have achieved their great popularity in children’s
play culture. As an attempt to develop an interpretative framework
that can function as a basis for an attitude to the qualities
of the games this is of course only a first step. We are for example
left with a question of a far more general nature in child research
than computer games and media: what is play for children? Is it
for example a kind of “training” for adult life, a
development resource or an acting-out of frustrations? Or is it
for example, as Huizinga says, a special sphere that is fundamental
to and in our culture and has a value in itself. Whether play
is a means or an end in itself is a central theme, where developmental
psychology has a different approach from research on children’s
culture. My reflections on computer games and play culture above
are based on an assumption that play is a special, independent
mode of being. Children’s play is not only a means of learning
and development. Play is a cultural phenomenon, and such a point
of view means that one will not immediately ask what children
learn from play or from computer games. To play means to strive
to be in a playing state. This end is important enough in itself,
and needs no further justification (cf. Huizinga). Computer games
are good instruments for getting into such a state. Some are of
course better than others, and for the players the capacity of
the games for creating good playing spaces are their most important
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Associate professor, Ph.d.
The Danish University of Education
Department of Educational Anthropology
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